Posts Tagged ‘Tougas Family Farm’

McIntosh apples waiting to be plucked at Douglas Orchards in West Shoreham, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

McIntosh apples waiting to be plucked at Douglas Orchards in West Shoreham, Vermont. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

APPLES COME and apples go, but McIntosh is that rare variety whose popularity never fades. It took nearly 70 years after its discovery on a Canadian farm more than 200 years ago for McIntosh to make its commercial debut. But since 1870 the Mac has enjoyed a sustained run as one of our nation’s favorite apples, firmly entrenched in America’s top ten (the sixth most popular variety grown in the United States), and accounting for about two-thirds of the New England crop, where Macs grow exceptionally well.

A century ago McIntosh was competing with varieties like Baldwin, Northern Spy, and Rhode Island Greening for marketplace supremacy. Yet, while those varieties are still grown in a number of the region’s orchards, their popularity crested long ago, and they are now treasured as heirlooms rather than grown widely on a national scale.

Many varieties that were popular one hundred years ago were not so lucky, and are now rare or extinct. Three Massachusetts apples, for example, were not only regional favorites but cultivated across the country. Benoni (an early season apple from Dedham in the early 1800s, with crisp, juicy yellow flesh and red, or orange-yellow, striped red skin), Danvers Sweet (a variety from the 1700s included in the American Pomological Society’s first list of recommended varieties for its sweet flavor and storage qualities), and Mother (discovered in Worcester in 1848 and prized for its appearance and flavor), are now found in just a few places, or preserved in heritage orchards like the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

The reasons an apple variety can fade from view are many. It may be difficult to grow or susceptible to disease. Its fruit may be small or misshapen, or the trees may bear crops only every other year. The apple’s core may be too big, the skin too tough, or the flesh too dry. The apple may bruise easily, fall prematurely off the tree, or store and ship poorly — critical factors for commercial success. A variety may simply become unfashionable, its desirability influenced by such superficial factors as color or name.

In some instances, the qualities that made an apple variety exceptional where it was discovered simply do not translate well to other climates or soils. A great apple in southeastern Vermont may be bland when grown in northern Connecticut. Even the flavor of successful commercial varieties like McIntosh and Honeycrisp can vary slightly according to where it is grown, the time of year, and the particular weather conditions of a season.

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

McIntosh apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

YET McINTOSH is remarkably consistent in flavor and texture, and its attributes well known. In addition to its distinctive, sweet-tart flavor, McIntosh is one of the most aromatic apples. Its juicy flesh is crisp but not dense. Few apples bring as much pleasure as the distinctive crunch of a fresh McIntosh straight from the tree — and they are now ripe for picking in New England orchards, and available at farm stands and grocery stores.

But McIntosh are also great for cooking, and apple crisp is one of the many desserts in which McIntosh excel. We recently made apple crisp using the last of the early season varieties, plus a couple of Granny Smiths that were given to us at the beginning of the summer and that had languished in the refrigerator.

The crisp had good flavor, but it was dry, as the early season apples and Grannies were past their prime, lacking in juice. When this happens, the crisp can be salvaged by adding half a cup or more of liquid, ideally fresh cider, and cooked for 15 more minutes. Water will work if you do not have any cider, or in our case, an eight-ounce bottle of apple juice we had on hand. The result was very good.

Had we used McIntosh, though, there would have been no such problem. Its natural juiciness ensures that apple crisp made with McIntosh will never be dry or lacking in texture, and its rich flavor and fragrance are simply sublime.

We will feature apple crisp made with Macs (and maybe a few Cortlands) at the New England Apple Association booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) in West Springfield, Massachusetts, for 17 consecutive days beginning this Friday, September 13. Customers will have the option of topping off their warm crisp (or apple pie) with vanilla ice cream.

A brief shower Sunday left traces of rain on McIntosh apples at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A brief shower Sunday left traces of rain on McIntosh apples at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

We will also be selling fresh apples at The Big E from a number of orchards, including Brookfield Orchards, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Cold Spring Orchard, Nestrovich Fruit Farm, Pine Hill Orchard, Red Apple Farm, and Tougas Family Farm, plus single-serving apple pies, cider donuts from Atkins Farm, and fresh cider from Carlson Orchards, and have informational items like recipe cards and our 2014 New England Apples wall calendar.

The fair is a great place to sample and learn about apples, including many of the varieties that populate New England orchards today. We cannot guarantee that all of them will be flourishing a century from now, but it is a good bet that McIntosh is here to stay.

The apple crisp recipe we use comes from Lois Castell Browns, grandmother of Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks.

Apple Crisp

6 McIntosh or other New England apples

1 T lemon juice

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/2 t salt


3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/4 c old-fashioned oats

1/4 c brown sugar or maple syrup

5 T butter

Preheat oven to 350˚. Core and slice apples into a buttered 8” square pan. Sprinkle lemon juice and spices over the apples. Combine topping ingredients to cover the apples. Bake for 45 minutes or until apples have softened.


For more information about New England orchards, what they grow, and where to find them, click here.

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Scott's Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Scott’s Yankee Farmer, East Lyme, Connecticut (Russell Steven Powell photo)

I HAVE COOKED with apples for many years and written about them almost as long. Still, it felt a little audacious for me to bring apple squares to a professional chef, Luca Paris, to share live on his radio show on WKBK in Keene, New Hampshire, last Thursday. The recipe is an old favorite, but I had not made it for some time. What if the squares were just average, or worse?

Like many recipes, the ingredients list a range of apples (in this case, four to six). While this accounts for different-sized fruit, I always use the higher number; the low end of the range strikes me as the bare minimum, if you are low on apples. Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, in her three-part video series on how to make an apple pie, says she likes to “pile them high” with fruit, and I feel the same. I used good-sized apples, two each of Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh (nearly any variety can be used in making this recipe).

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Empires I used were an even deeper red than this one, almost burgundy. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

I kept the skins on, for reasons practical (the nutrients are concentrated on or just beneath the apple’s surface) and aesthetic (color). The two Empires were a deep, deep red, almost burgundy, and they gave the squares a rich hue.

To avoid stringy threads of peel I cut the apples in small, irregular chunks from the outside in until I reached the core, rather than coring and slicing them. Placing the chunks in a bowl, I chopped the skins into even smaller pieces with the aid of a biscuit cutter.

There is very little spice in these squares, just a little cinnamon. This allows the full range of naturally sweet apple flavors to come through. The different varieties impart subtly different tastes and textures to the squares; too much sugar or spice can overpower them.

The original recipe, which came to me from the late Margaret Richardson of Brookfield, Massachusetts, called for cornflakes in the middle. The crisp, light cereal flakes soak up excess moisture, add flavor, and help the squares hold together better. I substituted multigrain flakes to make them a little healthier.

The crust does not have to be perfect as long as you manage to seal most of the edges. The dash of almond extract in the glaze makes a nice contrast to the apple flavor.

I sampled a square before I left for the studio, and it tasted fine. Still, there were no guarantees that Luca or his co-host, Dan Mitchell, would like them. Luca complimented me after the first one while we were waiting to go on the air, but he might have just been being polite.

Then Dan tried a square. Then they both had another one. By show’s end, Luca had eaten two more squares — four in all — and taken some home with him. That evening, he wrote in an email, “those squares were amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!” On the strength of this endorsement, I thought it time to share the recipe.

The recipe is included in my book America’s Apple, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. America’s Apple can be ordered online in hardcover or as an ebook at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

— Russell Steven Powell

Peg’s Apple Squares

1 egg yolk


2-1/2 c flour (use white whole-wheat for better health)

1/2 t salt

1 c butter (use half coconut oil for better health)

1 c multigrain or corn flakes

4-6 New England apples, cored and chopped

3/4 c sugar (use raw cane sugar for better health)

1 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat egg yolk in measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2/3 cup liquid.

Mix flour and salt, and cut in butter with a pastry blender.

Mix wet and dry ingredients together until it forms a dough. Divide in half.

Roll out half the dough to fit into a 15-1/2” cookie sheet, pressing it into bottom and sides. Sprinkle with corn flakes. Top with apples.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples.

Roll out remaining dough and place on top of apples. Seal edges. Cut holes in dough to let steam escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until crust is brown and apples are soft.

Glaze (omit for better health):

1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

1-2 T milk

almond extract

Mix with a few drops of almond extract. Drizzle over warm squares.


FEBRUARY IS TIME for pruning in New England’s apple orchards. See how it is done in this two-part video series starring Mo Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts:

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Some New England orchards had outstanding crops in 2012, like Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Some New England orchards had outstanding crops in 2012, like Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT’S DIFFICULT to draw a single conclusion about this year’s New England apple crop. While the region’s diverse geography and microclimates ensure some variability from year to year, the 2012 season has been more volatile than most. It began with a freak March heat wave that was followed, predictably, by sub-freezing temperatures in April, killing many of the premature blossoms and nascent (young) fruit. Orchards and blocks of trees in low-lying areas with poor air circulation sustained the greatest loss.

Some of the orchards that survived this catastrophe were then hit by hail in June and July, further reducing the size of the region’s crop. Even a brief hailstorm can devastate an orchard, leaving small nicks or pockmarks in the fruit’s skin. Hail makes an apple less pleasing to the eye and compromises its storage ability. But if eaten soon after it is picked the apple’s flavor and texture are unaffected.

Spring and summer were hot, and, while overall the apple crop received plenty of water, there were several long stretches between rains early in the season. This, combined with the early bloom, sped up the ripening process, resulting in a harvest that began one or more weeks sooner than usual, depending on location.

Mid-season varieties like McIntosh were being picked in some orchards as early as Labor Day Weekend, and many pick-your-owns have already closed for the season. The larger orchards growing for the wholesale market are finishing up their harvest earlier than usual as well.

Some New England orchards lost their entire 2012 crop to frost or hail damage, or both. Yet the news was not all bad. Many orchards had beautiful, full crops. Most fell somewhere in between: they had apples, but only 60 percent to 80 percent of a normal crop. When all of the apples are picked, New England in 2012 expects to harvest about 75 percent of a normal crop.

Despite this, New England did well and its growers feel fortunate compared to their peers in New York and Michigan, the country’s second and third largest apple-growing states, respectively, after Washington. New York lost half its crop, Michigan a staggering 85 percent, historic losses resulting from the same weather pattern experienced in New England: premature bloom from a March heat wave followed by a killing April frost.

What should consumers expect due to the earlier and smaller crop in New England and the Northeast?

A shorter season. If you want the orchard experience this fall, you should get there over the next few weekends. Visit our website, New England Apples, to find information about many of the region’s orchards. Call the orchard ahead of time to find out what varieties are ready and to see if pick-your-own is still available.

Dings and dents. With fewer fresh apples around this fall, growers are hoping consumers will accept an occasional blemish or flaw in exchange for an otherwise perfect apple.

Higher fresh cider prices. There simply are not enough juice apples this year, and there is no going to New York or Michigan to supplement the New England crop. The price of juice apples is up accordingly, and is likely to take cider prices with it.

An early end. The wholesale season will likely end early next spring. While there are plenty of fresh apples to go around now and through the holidays, the 2012 New England crop will be sold well before the 2013 crop is ready for harvest next August. In a good year, New England can supply its supermarkets with apples year-round. Many times there is a gap of a month or so between seasons, but the 2012 crop may be gone earlier than usual.

In the meantime, there are plenty of outstanding New England apples ripe for the picking and eating. Enjoy them while you can!

Like many growers, Roy Marks of Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, will have apples at his country store through October, despite having just 60 percent of a normal crop. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Like many growers, Roy Marks of Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, will have apples at his country store through October, despite having just 60 percent of a normal crop. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

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IF YOU ARE LOOKING for variety in your apples and can’t get to the orchard, two good options in western New England are River Valley Market in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Brattleboro Co-op in Vermont. Both have extensive apple displays with many hard-to-find heirlooms like Knobby Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Pitmaston Pineapple.

The best place to find an heirloom apple, naturally, is at the orchard, and you can find out who grows what by visiting Finding New England Apples by Variety. If you know of additional sources for heirlooms in New England, please add them as comments at the end of this post.

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THIS RECIPE for apple muffins was provided by Diane Brzozowski of Hatfield, who made them for runners at the end of Saturday’s Hatfield Harvest 5K Road Race, where they were quickly gobbled up. The original 1996 recipe came from the Healthy Eating for Life Program (HELP), Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

2 c whole wheat flour

1 T baking powder

1/2 t salt

1-1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1 egg

3/4 c milk

1/4 c oil

1/4 c honey

1 large McIntosh, Shamrock, or other tart New England apples, cored and chopped

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease tins for 12 muffins.

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix together egg, milk, oil, and honey, and add them to the dry ingredients. Stir until batter is moist but lumpy.

Fill the muffin tins two-thirds full. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

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WEATHER IS just one of the challenges growers face as they guide their crop from spring bloom through harvest in America’s Apple, a new book about apple growing in the United States by Russell Steven Powell.Powell, who has worked in the apple industry for the past 16 years, visited more than 50 orchards across the country gathering information for the book, and interviewed some of the nation’s leading apple researchers.
The hard-cover volume features nearly 50 full-color photographs by Bar Lois Weeks, plus a photographic index of 120 apple varieties grown in the United States (a paperback version, identical except for the photographic index, is available for $19.95).
To learn more, including how to order, visit America’s Apple.

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Phyllis Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, with a fresh tray of cider donuts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Phyllis Tougas of Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, with a fresh tray of cider donuts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE QUESTION of who makes the best cider donut inspires considerable debate and some controversy. These humble, cake-like orbs are nearly as high in demand as the freshly picked apples filling the bins or hanging from the trees at many orchards. Why do these apple-infused donuts provoke such fierce devotion, and what is the secret of their success?

We have sampled cider donuts from dozens of orchards around New England and can vouch for their nearly universal appeal, although no two are alike. They are all made with cider and very little shortening and come in two varieties: plain and sugar-coated. The latter are often mixed with cinnamon, as is the batter, giving the donuts their distinctive, lightly spiced flavor. That flavor is equally influenced by other spices added to the batter, notably nutmeg, but we can offer no further insight, as orchards guard their ingredients and proportions like state secrets.

Their texture is what further separates the very good from the truly exalted cider donut. Some are heavier, some a little lighter, but beauty, in this case, is in the taste buds of the consumer. Cider donuts inspire great loyalty: the best ones invariably are those made at one’s local orchard. For many, it is love at first bite.

Cider donuts are known primarily in the Northeast, and their popularity is staggering. Many orchards have trouble keeping up with demand, especially on fall weekends, and people will endure long lines to satisfy their appetite for this subtly sweet treat. The cider donuts made by Atkins Farms in Amherst, Massachusetts, were once named one of the top ten donuts in America by a national food magazine, and on fall weekends they make upwards of 10,000 per day.

We will have Atkins Farms cider donuts at our booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) daily starting this Friday, September 14, through Sunday, September 30, but you can find great cider donuts at your local orchard as well. After all, that’s where they’re the best.

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THIS RECIPE comes from Stephanie Waite of Westward Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts. We’ve tried their cider donuts — it’s in our job description — and they’re outstanding, too.

Cider Donut Pudding

12-14 cider donuts, dried and broken apart

4 eggs beaten

2 T butter, melted

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

2 c milk

1 c apple cider

1 t vanilla

1 t cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

1 large Cortland or other New England apple

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, place donut pieces. In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients except apple. Pour mixture over donuts and let sit 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, core and chop the apple and add to donut mixture. After 20 minutes, pour this into 9″ x 13″ baking dish and bake for one hour or until set.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

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 America's AppleIN ADDITION to cider donuts, we will have fresh apples from a number of Massachusetts orchards at our booth at the Big E, plus apple crisp and pies made by Marge Cook of Cook’s Farm Orchard in Brimfield, fresh cider from Carlson Orchards of Harvard, apple butter and preserves from Bear Meadow Farm in Colrain, and the book America’s Apple, by Russell Steven Powell, with photographs by Bar Lois Weeks. Both Powell and Weeks will be staffing the booth and available to sign books and talk about apples.

We will also have recipe cards and brochures about New England orchards and apples. Stop by and say hello, grab a bite, and learn more about America’s most famous fruit.

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Dowse Orchards

A hawk surveys the apple crop at Dowse Orchards in Sherborn, Massachusetts (Russell Steven Powell photo)

FEW APPLES ARE AS EAGERLY ANTICIPATED every fall as Macoun, and apple lovers will be happy to know that they are now available at most New England orchards.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

While they are good for most culinary uses, Macouns are highly sought-after as a fresh-eating apple. Their sweet-tart flavor evokes McIntosh (which is one of Macoun’s parents). But Macoun has a harder, crisper flesh than the Mac, and its complex flavor hints of strawberry and spices. Macouns have a striated green and red color similar to a Cortland, and a sometimes angular, almost boxy shape, further distinguishing it from McIntosh.

Macouns do not keep as well as some varieties, another reason they are coveted in the fall. Macouns flourish in New England; on a recent day we received queries from Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania inquiring where Macouns could be found, and in our booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (the “Big E”), the Macouns supplied by Nestrovich Fruit Farm in Granville, Massachusetts, were snapped up quickly. We hope to replenish them before the end of the fair.

McIntosh supplies much of Macoun’s flavor and bouquet. Jersey Black, Macoun’s other parent, is an American heirloom once known as Black Apple due to its dark color, contributing to Macoun’s wine-red tones and irregular shape.

Macoun was developed in 1909 by Richard Wellington at Cornell University’s New York Agricultural Experiment Station, and released commercially in 1923. It was named for Canadian pomologist W. T. Macoun. Macoun, by the way, is pronounced as if spelled “MacCowan,” although some people insist on saying “MacCoon.” Any way you say or slice it, Macoun is a delicious apple, and this is the peak season to bite into one.

If you bring home too many to eat fresh, or simply want to explore Macouns’ flavors in cooking, here’s a recipe we’ve adapted from Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, originally attributed to Kitty Patterson.

We have visited a number of New England orchards this fall, and many have exceptional crops. But none are more lush than the one at Tougas Family Farm (if you get to the Big E this weekend, we may still have some of Tougas Family Farm’s Galas on hand). But wherever you go to pick or purchase your apples, this is the ideal time to visit your local orchard to sample the season’s bounty.

Apple Crisp Pie

1 9-inch pie crust

4-5 Macoun or other New England apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

3/4 c plus 2-3 T sugar

¾ c flour

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t salt

3 T brown sugar

1/2 c butter at room temperature

Toss apples with the 2-3 T sugar. Place into uncooked pie shell, rounding up on center. Combine remaining ingredients in bowl, mixing until mixture resembles moist crumbs. Sprinkle over top of apples. Bake 15 minutes at 425°F. Reduce heat to 350° for 30 minutes more until crunchy and brown.


FOR MORE INFORMATION about New England’s apple varieties and orchards, visit our website at  www.newenglandapples.org.

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Ginger Gold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Ginger Gold apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

IF YOU ARE HANKERING for an early season apple, your ship has come in. Two of the earliest varieties, Ginger Gold and Jersey Mac, can now be found at many orchards and farmstands. They are harbingers of the fall crop to come — and it looks like a good apple year for most of New England’s orchards — best eaten fresh, offering tantalizing flavors of things to come.

Ginger Gold apples are sweet, tangy, and juicy. Their shape ranges from round to conical, and they have a smooth, green-yellow skin, often with a light pink blush. Ginger Golds are a good apple for both cooking and fresh eating, and are especially enjoyed in salads, as their crisp, white flesh browns slowly when sliced.

Ginger Golds are a relatively new apple, discovered in a Virginia orchard in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the late 1960s. Their parentage is not certain, but Ginger Golds likely are a cross between Golden Delicious and Newtown (Albemarle) Pippin.

Jersey Mac apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jersey Mac apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jersey Macs have a tough, dark-red skin with green and red patches, and they are noted for their sweet, strawberry-like flavor and bright white flesh. They don’t store well, but this early season apple can be used for both cooking and fresh eating. As one grower puts it, “Jersey Mac is a good choice for McIntosh lovers who are getting impatient waiting for the Macs to ripen.”

Jersey Macs were developed at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of Rutgers University in 1956 (hence the name), and were introduced commercially in 1971.

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BAKED APPLES are an easy and flavorful dessert to make, and their flavor can be altered and enhanced by experimenting with a number of optional ingredients. Baked apples can be served alone warm or topped with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.

Some say baked apples are even better eaten cold at breakfast the next day. Either way, they keep in the refrigerator for several days, and can be reheated if that’s your preference.

Here’s a good recipe for baking apples using either Ginger Gold, Jersey Mac, or the later varieties when they arrive.

Cranberry Baked Apples

6 Ginger Gold or Jersey Mac apples, or a mix

1 c dried cranberries

1/2 c golden raisins

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c apple cider (apple juice or water can be substituted in a pinch)

1 t lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°. Wash and core apples, and place snugly in a glass baking dish. Toss cranberries, raisins, sugar, and zest together in a bowl and fill apple cores when fully mixed. Pour cider in bottom of baking dish, and cook for 25-30 minutes, until apples are soft. If there is any liquid left, drizzle over apples before serving.

Mo Tougas, Apple Grower of the Year

CONGRATULATIONS to Mo Tougas, named the 2011 Apple Grower of the Year by American/Western Fruit Grower Magazine, one of the nation’s leading agricultural publications. Mo, who operates Tougas Family Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, with his wife, Phyllis, and son, Andre, has long been admired in the region for his business savvy and entrepreneurial style, but first and foremost, he grows a great apple. He never stops trying to innovate and improve his horticultural skills, and this national recognition is well deserved.

Read Mo’s story and learn about some of his innovations by following this link: Mo Tougas, 2011 Apple Grower of the Year

Mo, who serves as vice chair of the board of directors of the New England Apple Association, will be honored at the USApple Outlook Conference in Chicago this week. To learn more about New England apples (and to see video programs featuring Mo on methods for grafting and pruning apple trees), visit New England Apples.

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